A cappella group performing on stage
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ICCA South Quarterfinal at Clemson University

Event Reviews

Rico McClanahan is a recent alum of University of South Carolina Soundcheck

On Saturday March 2nd 2013 Clemson University played host to the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella final South Quarterfinal Round The event featured eight competing groups:

The AcaBelles - Florida State University
Above the Keys - University of Miami
The A’caphiliacs - Florida State University
Cockapella - University of South Carolina
Dooley Noted - Emory University
Take Note - Clemson University
The Cocktails - University of South Carolina
Tigerroar - Clemson University

The event took place in Tillman Hall and it was a pretty packed house with a lot of the home groups fans (Take Note and Tigerroar) coming out in droves to support. Lindsay Howerton kicked off the show with the regular ICCA announcements before handing the show over to the emcee.

First out of the gate was Clemson’s University’s all-female crew Take Note. They hit the stage in all black with gold tops for a slick and professional look. They opened with an unaccompanied lead in to “Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding. Very good emotion and visuals on this one and the groove really slid into place when the perc finally kicked in when the chorus came up. The only qualms that I have about this one was that the blend kind of fell off the rails whenever they started the chorus, but it was fixed thereafter--maybe just a tuning issue there. And I can say that this one was a little bit one note, not enough swells and crescendo. But a solid, current opener nonetheless. The ladies ended the opener in an arc and transitioned seamlessly into “The Scientist” by Coldplay. Loved the soloist here, very nice deep alto sound from her, and the blend in the background was impeccable. Again, though, the song kind of stayed one note on the emotional scale, I wanted the soloist to really emote the song near the bridge but it just didn’t happen. But either way the background sounded amazing on this song. From their Take Note went to “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine. This ICCA season I think we will probably be hearing a lot of this song from the all-female groups. This song was easily their best song out of their set. Very nice moves with the background reaching out to the soloist and the soloist perfectly emoting to the crowd. Speaking of the soloist this one was right up her alley, wonderful phrasing and vibrato on those money notes; she was seriously a dead ringer for Florence. Best song of their set.

Second up were The AcaBelles from Florida State University. This all-female group was decked out in all black with pink shoelaces for a bit of color. Holy attitude batman! These ladies came out of the gate ready to give the crowd a show. And maybe it was just me but even while the emcee was introducing them there was an expectation of greatness from this group. The people sitting in front of me were even murmuring how good they were before they even hit the stage. And I must say they didn’t disappoint. The ladies started out with a brief sampling of “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child before seguing into “Party”/b> by Beyoncé. Excellent choreo here to establish their fierceness before abruptly cutting off “Party” and going into “MLK” by U2, which was an excellent song choice to convey their musicality. Their blend was absolutely incredible and they were hitting the lows as well as highs on this one (not the norm for an all-female group). Again, solid choreo with the song ending with the ladies on their knees before the perc kicked in and seamlessly went into an excellent slow groove of “Don’t Wake Me Up” by Chris Brown. If anyone has ever listened to that song they know that it’s a high octane dance song, but I’ll be danged if the AcaBelles didn’t turn it into a meaningful ballad and IT WORKED. Excellent soloist on this one with lots of vocal honey (runs, sustained notes, the whole nine yards) being thrown around. The ladies then transitioned AGAIN into “Fly” by Nicki Minaj which included modulations out of the butt and a pretty sick sampling of “For the Rest of My Life” by Usher and David Guetta. The set ended with the ladies fanning the stage and moving upstage in front of the mics to sing directly to the crowd, EXCELLENT FINISH. If you have ever watched The AcaBelles before you know they are known for their seamless sets and being able to make a collage of songs in one setting but my only problem would be that the ladies transitioned through so many songs that the audience didn’t get a chance to connect with many of them at all. It got to the point where they would cut the songs off right when the meat of them were beginning. And the songs that I highlighted may not be all of the songs they were tackled in their set. I just didn’t get a chance to catch them all lol. Awesome set though.

Next up was Cockapella from the University of South Carolina (Lets Go Gamecocks! LOL). This co-ed group was decked out in all black with Garnet highlights. Seeing as I know this group personally this was their first crack in the ICCA competition and it was an awesome first time that’s for sure. They kicked off their high octane set with Labrinth and Tinie Tempah’s “Earthquake.” Really soulful male lead here with some really kicking/loud bass and one heck of a beat boxer. I will say that the blend did kind of go off the rails when going into the chorus but it was fixed once the tuning and listening kicked in. Although the song itself is meant to be fast and a slick R&B groove the dynamic contrast kind of stayed one note and that was loud. But solid opener and great way to catch the crowd’s attention. Cockapella then lead in with few of their ladies voices into “Some Nights” by Fun. Excellent blend and choreo here the only thing this was missing was the intensity of the original. Their first song took advantage of their awesome beat boxer and I found myself asking why they didn’t use him for this song as well. It was just missing that last layer of sound that would have made this song really stellar. The soloist was very enthusiastic and worked the crowd well, but again I just wish they had more dynamic contrast. Cockapella then closed out with “Fat Bottom Girls” by Queen. Absolutely hilarious solo on this one. This soloist had the stage presence and the voice to convey this song just the way it was meant to be. The crowd really got into this song, especially with the fun choreo of the soloist being pulled upon by the women of the group and the fun breakdown in the middle of the song where the soloist acted like he was conducting the group chorally. Awesome and hilarious closer.

Next up out of the gate was another hometown group Tigerroar out of Clemson University. The guys wore their trademark khakis, white button ups, and orange blazers. They started off their set in an arc singing “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone. Although I love this song I couldn’t help but think this one was way past its due date for this crowd. The choreography here was minimal but they had a playfulness that perfectly portrayed the song. But in order to make this song work the soloist had to have some playfulness and stage presence, but he seemed kind of muted. Nice ending with the guys pulling out cell phones and pretending to call the numbers. Pretty good opener. The guys then went into a more current song in “As Long as You Love Me” by Justin Bieber. Again the guys stayed in the a cappella arch as I like to call it, I just wanted a bit more visually though. The blend in the background was awesome and the sound was masterful, most likely because of the familiarity with the stage. The soloist here had a swagger that excellently fit the song and the perc was nice until it got to the rap section of the piece when the rapper kind of got slightly off beat while trying to rap the fast lyrics. The upper harmonies section though was really nice near the end of the song there. The last song for the guys in orange was “Take Me Home” by Phil Collins again not sure of the song choice here a little on the older side. The soloist had some range for this one. And of course the guys rocked out in the arc again. Pretty good closer for the soloist to portray his talents not sure if the crowd enjoyed this as much as it could have with a different song choice. Overall the set was pretty good I just wish there was some coherency with the song choice and some more modern songs.

The last group before intermission was all the way from the University of Miami, Above the Keys. The all guy group wore all black with orange ties. The guys ran on stage in pajamas at first which totally made sense since their first song was “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore. The choreo and rapper on this one was exceptionally fun. I will say there were some problems in the background. Particularly when the group decided to add in a quick sample of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” although the sample was a great idea it kind of went off the rails vocally and key wise when the guys got physical with the choreo. Visually this was entertaining but vocally it could have been better. The guys then segued into “Thought She Knew” by N’sync. Very nice sustained notes from the background and this soloist was very soulful on this one, especially since he was a dead ringer for Justin Timberlake. Awesome staggered notes into a slow grove. Very nice middle song to establish credibility. The group then ended with “Too Close” by Alex Clare. This song in itself is really intense so I was surprised when Above the Keys decided to take a humorous approach to this Top 40 hit. The choreo for this one was really good with some box step moves as well as some old school snap movements (lean with it rock with it) taking place in the middle but again the tempo seemed to get away from them sometimes. Good closer to a good set, though.

After a brief 15 minute intermission the next group in was the all-female group from the University of South Carolina, The Cocktails. The Cocktails wore all black for a slick look. The ladies from USC opted to do a medley from one artist the infallible Lady Gaga of course. They started out with a brief sample of “Bad Romance” before quickly turning the medley into “Poker Face”. Awesome choreo here, particularly while doing Lady Gaga’s trademark hand gestures and arm rotations. Pretty good soloist, but I wanted her to break out more; she needed to own the song. Awesome transition into “Paparazzi.” I loved the swells and the almost horror movie like choreography here. The soloist on this one really owned the stage and let out some interesting vocal runs near the end. The girls then went into “You and I” to close out the set, raw power coming from the soloist and impeccable blend coming from the background particularly on the power chords that they were rocking out to at the end of the set. I also loved the decision to mash all three of the songs together near the end, just wish that section was longer. Awesome set choice overall.

The co-ed group from Emory University Dooley Noted took the stage next. The group wore black and blue for a laid back and polished look. The group opened up with “Sincerely Jane” by Janelle Monae. And when I first heard the perc pick up to this song I was really surprised. Janelle Monae is one of my favorite artists at the moment and from an arrangers point of view this song would be one of the hardest to arrange. And my gosh whoever arranged this is a master with the notes. From the minor chords and the sustained notes to the flawless background noise that Janelle is known for this song had it all. Even the choreo was very interesting, although the group’s home position was in the a cappella arc they kept it interesting by doing moves in the arc which included some cool stop poses and awesome dramatic movements. The group then went into “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz. The background here was so juicy and full that the crowd had no choice but to eat this up. The staggered notes in the background were absolutely beautiful as well. By the time the group arrived to the bridge and decided to layer on the soloist with two extra harmony lines I was literally bouncing in my seat to how good this was. Perfect blend to awesome highs and lows, this was an excellent middle song. The group then wrapped it up with “Mercy” by Duffy. The soloist on this one was AWESOME! Awesome stage presence and awesome choice to have the choreography literally follow the soloist. I absolutely loved the Electric Slide moves in the middle of the song. And the step break down of the bridge was flawless as well. And by the time the group arrived at the bridge the soloist absolutely let loose so much vocal honey the bees couldn’t be kept away. All of a sudden this competition looked like it was going to be a close one. This set was excellent from start to finish. I do not envy the judges tonight at all.

To round out the night was another group from Florida State University, The Acaphiliacs. The co-ed group wore black with purple highlights. Once the group started to come out I thought they would never stop coming there were so many of them lol. The group opened with “Radiate” by Fleming and John. The soloist was a soaring soprano and gosh did she have the range to hit those high notes. There were some fun movements to accompany the song. The only thing I would say is that with their being so many people on stage the soloists words sometimes got swallowed by the sheer amount of power going on behind her. The bridge incorporated the beatboxer for a dance break with just her. Fun Opener. The group then transitioned into “Try” by Pink. Awesome bass sound and chord progression on this one. I couldn’t help but think that the soloist’s voice was too proper for this Pink song. Pink is known for her raspy guttural voice and I don’t know if the soloist handled this right. Awesome background sound, though. Loved the perc picking up pace into the second verse. I kind of felt like this may have been over choreographed as well. But regardless the group still sounded amazing. The last song in their repertoire was a mash-up of “Winter Winds” and “Winter Song” by Mumford and Sons and Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, respectively. Love the subtleness of this number, again excellent bass sound and I love the choice to go with an emotional number to close out the set. Some excellent choreo here with the group grabbing each other in two lines and undulating towards the soloist. Loved both soloists wished that the female soloist had more firepower though, excellent male soloist though. Excellent closer to a pretty good set.

Lindsay then came back and introduced the act that would be entertaining us while the judges deliberated this just turned out to be a person playing a piano the whole time. I felt kind of bad for the guy because the crowd really just talked over him the whole time her tried to play. But while he was playing I tried to come up with some predictions. I thought the it was going to be a tossup for first and second between Dooley Noted and the AcaBelles both put on one heck of a show. But there were a plethora of choices that third place could have went too particularly between the Cocktails, Acaphiliacs, and Cockapella. My final pick though had the AcaBelles eking out a victory over Dooley Noted. But in the end Dooley Noted came out with the win. I can’t argue with that it was well deserved and both groups certainly earned their spots in the semi-finals.

My Picks
Overall Placement:
1. The AcaBelles
2. Dooley Noted
3. TOSS UP: Cocktails, Acaphiliacs, Cockapella

Best Soloist:
1. Dooley Noted for “Mercy”
2. The AcaBelles for “Don’t Wake Me Up”
3. Above the Keys for “Thought She Knew”

Best Arrangement
1. Dooley Noted for “Sincerely Jane”
2. The AcaBelles for Whole Set
3. The Acaphiliacs for “Winter Winds/Winter Song”

Best Vocal Percussion
1. Cockapella for Earthquake
2. Cocktails for the full set

Best Choreography
1. The AcaBelles for full set
2. The Cocktails for the full set
3. The Acaphiliacs for the full set

Official Picks:
Overall Placement:
1. Dooley Noted
2. The AcaBelles
3. The Acaphiliacs

Outstanding Soloist: Dooley Noted for “Mercy”
Outstanding Arrangement: Dooley Noted for “Sincerely Jane”
Outstanding Choreography: The AcaBelles for the full set

Thanks again to The A Cappella blog for letting me review this awesome South Quarterfinal. I can’t wait to hear more good things from these groups!

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